Rugby in Turkey – Update

Back in September 2010 I wrote a piece about the emergence of rugby football as a sport in Turkey and the potential threat this could pose to the existing world order. I have to confess, I may have been a trifle premature. Three years have passed without the Turkish national team making the slightest ripple on the established pond of international rugby.
Well, these things take time. New Zealand selected its first national side in 1884, sending the lads on an eight-match tour of Australia. The sport’s overseeing body, the NZ Rugby Union, was formed in 1892, and the country’s reputation as an international powerhouse in the sport was established by the ‘All Black Originals’ team that toured the United Kingdom, France and North America in 1905-06 and won 34 of the 35 matches played.
The Turkish Rugby federation, in contrast, was founded in 2011, and the national team played its first match in 2012. Since, then, according to Wikipedia, the boys have played four matches for four victories, against Azerbaijan, Estonia and Slovakia (twice). Admittedly the opposition has not been of the strongest, but the victories have been convincing: 31-5 and 49-5, for example, in away matches against Slovakia and Estonia respectively.
Perhaps the best indication, however, that rugby is about to break into the field of serious sports in Turkey is the team’s appearance on the front page of the glamour supplement of our local newspaper ‘Hürriyet’. Soccer football is the national obsession, exceeding religion and politics in terms of media coverage. Footie of the round-ball variety is found, not only on the sports pages of newspapers, but in the economics section as well. Its stars (and their latest trophy girlfriends) are photographed by armies of paparazzis and published for the titillation of supporters and opponents alike. Ballots for controlling bodies such as the present maneuverings to choose a president for the Fenerbahçe Club arguably generate more excitement than political elections.
So, today’s article in the Hürriyet’s ‘Kelebek’ supplement is a recognition that something is going on. The piece is accompanied by a photograph showing eight of the national side baring their physiques in a photo op in the team dressing room. The writer goes on to say that there are now thirty-five teams around the country, not including women’s rugby, which is apparently also becoming popular. A national competition is due to start on 30 November. Organisers are planning to publish a calendar (along the lines of the French ‘Dieux du Stade’) featuring the flower of Turkish manhood wearing jockstraps or less in their search for sponsorship.

Well, getting back to New Zealand for a moment, no player or supporter of the All Black rugby team would give the national soccer squad the remotest chance of out-physique-ing them on a beefcake calendar – so I’m picking this could be the start of big things for rugby football in Turkey.
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